In a recent letter to His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, Abba Seraphim wrote of the “profound sadness” with which the British Orthodox clergy and faithful have been following reports of the tragedy at Alexandria, “our hearts are very heavy for the families of those who lost their loved ones in this wicked act of violence. We stand beside all our Coptic brothers and sisters in their grief and we yearn for a peaceful and just outcome.”
He expressed wholehearted support for His Holiness’ constant message for a just and peaceful response to the problems facing the Copts and assured him that all his “British Orthodox clergy and children unite with our Mother Church in that prayer and our churches and communities will be sharing in the days of prayer and reflection which have been planned here in the British Isles.”
Whilst forwarding on messages received from hierarchs and clergy of other churches, which had been sent to him, Abba Seraphim spoke warmly of their “sympathy and loving support” and their wish “to stand beside us when we commemorate the new Alexandrian martyrs as well as the other victims who survived. Their respect for the Coptic Orthodox Church and its constant call for peace and harmony in the face of the most devastating provocation has been a potent witness to our fidelity to the Gospel. “
As the Christmas celebrations of the Coptic Church approaches Abba Seraphim believed that “the world will see and respect that even these terrible crimes cannot deprive us of the joy at the Lord’s Incarnation. The shadow of recent events, which enjoins that this will be a muted and modest celebration can never separate us from the love of God, which is manifested in the glorious incarnation of His Only-Begotten Son for our salvation.”
The British Orthodox Church was represented by Fathers Seraphim Mina and Simon Smyth (representing H.E. Abba Seraphim) at a service for the Christians martyred in Our Lady of Salvation Syrian Catholic Church in Baghdad on Sunday 31 October. The joint remembrance service was organised by the Christian Churches for the Iraqi Communities in the UK at Holy Trinity Syrian Catholic Church, Brook Green, Hammersith, West London, on Friday 12 November.
Also representing the Council of Oriental Orthodox Churches (COOC) were H. E. Archbishop Athanasius for the Syriac Orthodox Church, H. G. Bishop Angaelos (President of COOC and representing His Holiness Pope Shenouda) and Father Snork Bagdassarian (representing the Armenian Primate of Great Britain) as well many priests and faithful from the Catholic, Anglican, Byzantine & Oriental Orthodox Churches.
Messages of support and assurances of prayer were read out on behalf of H.H. Pope Shenouda, the Archbishops of Westminster the Archbishop of Canterbury. Bishop Angaelos announced that Sunday 21 November has been designated a Sunday of prayer throughout the Coptic Orthodox Church for remembrance of the Christians of Iraq.
Fifty-two candles each in the centre of a floral cross – one for each of those martyred in Our Lady of Salvation Church – were positioned throughout the Church, along the aisles and across the front of the Church and there were photograqphs of the new martyrs at the front of the Church.
Although there was evidence of sadness and grief, Christian faith, hope, love and even joy were strongly present too. The emphasis on throughout was that though in one sense separated from the departed martyrs we are still united with these who now behold God in the promised paradise, in the bosoms of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and especially at the celebration of the Eucharist, in which heaven and earth are one. If faith, hope and love were evident, both in the messages at the beginning and throughout the Mass in the singing and prayers, they shone forth in an inspirational sermon delivered with power and passion by the celebrating priest Father Nizar Semaan. Unusually in a church, it drew forth a standing ovation which it took some minutes to quieten before the service continued. At the conclusion of the homily he declared, “The heavenly Father will welcome all those who paid so dearly with their blood. Their martyrdom will bless the Church of our Lady of Deliverance, making it a stronger bastion for future generations…”